Rob - Henry, TN
| Read Rob's First Entry
PARIS - Each of the game's biggest names affects this Parisian crowd in a different way. If you want proof, the best gauge is the gaggle of young fans that flock courtside for autographs after matches.
When holding up a ticket, photo or giant fuzzy Penn ball for Maria Sharapova to sign, both the boys and girls gasp, as though the star they've seen only in Canon and Nike ads will blind them if they look too close. When signaling Rafael Nadal's attention, the boys take turns with full-throated yells, in the hopes that matching the Mallorca Matador's on-court intensity will cause him to grant them special attention.
On the other hand, many of them feel ambivalent toward Serena Williams-she's too cocky and too cavalier to win their hearts, but ultimately too good for them not to pursue her signature.
With Roger Federer the children's-and nearly everyone else's-reactions are more subdued. Their pleadings for autographs on the tickets and the big fuzzy Penns are just that: pleas to the king of tennis. After all, only the king decides where he puts his insignia.
One week at this year's French Open is now over and four matches have been completed, and there is a sense of history in the making. Some compare it to the feeling here when Andre Agassi was about to complete a career slam in 1999, or what the British thought when Pete Sampras was about to set a new slam record during Wimbledon in 2000. Spectators here know that the Swiss maestro needs only three more wins to claim the only major title that eludes him.
Moreover, many of the fans believe that should he win here, this king will receive a special king of coronation. It would be his 11th major title, three less than Sampras, but the American never won the French Open, nor did he ever win four majors in a row, both of which Federer hopes to accomplish on Sunday. He had a similar chance last year, but unlike then, he enters this tournament with a winning streak against Nadal, his clay court nemesis.
Some of the more boisterous children can be heard shouting "Roger is the best!" before, during and after his matches. Many of the more seasoned spectators agree.
"Federer is the greatest I've ever seen," said one older French fan, who has been attending this event since for nearly 20 years and watching even longer. "He's consistent like Bjorn Borg, but more powerful. He's brilliant like John McEnroe, but more dedicated."
This is only one of the more eloquent ways of expressing the sentiment that hundreds, maybe thousands of fans can be heard saying while waiting for play to start. One British family of four commuted to this event strictly in the hopes of witnessing history first-hand.
"We're raising two young tennis fans," the mother said. "If Roger wins, they'll always be able to say they were here to see it happen."